Joshua Gordon

Hillbilly Requiem

Down on a hilltop, Irish, Scottish, whatever: The growl and tussle of a yard full of mutts; once a brogue, now a twang neither sweet nor resonant; a vesper in the sumac that soon dies and is born again in the hollow fist of your son. His son. His daughters. A shack teeming with pups just off sixteen, on three-oh-five, off four-forty-six: Any number of places where the sound can nest in needles and hide in the leaves underfoot—where the fury can take root. Eighty-six, then seventeen. There was a day a boy never opened the front door again without a knock.

Beside the trickle and piss of the creek, among the riprap clinging to the glacier-ground dirt: Upon that rock I found my home. And there left it, when all my grandmother had to do was move. Move, and the man said she’d live. But she stayed so still, hollering for the help she refused to give herself. So stubborn her skin shredded across her bones. So still, finally, she did not breathe.

I refused to watch her die when all she had to do was move.

And now a man is deposited like a huge gray stone after the muddy gush of a thaw, now surrounded by children and children’s children, some perched on top, snatching for minnows to bring home in a five-gallon bucket, the word “asbestos” printed on its side, next to a warning not to let the kids fall in and drown, only to forget the pail on the porch, where the flecked fish will suffocate in the stuff that was their life if only it had moved.

Your lungs no longer rattle. Your hands no longer clench, nor do they spread wide enough to leave a smart, red splash on the skin of the creek, dammed and pooled to catch crayfish.

I love you, somewhere, in a heart inside a heart. I love you in the flesh of a wild grape plucked, sweet and sacred, from a vine tangled in the foundation of a hip-roof garage in perpetual collapse, afraid of when you’d find me—afraid of the smart and the splash. I love you in the chaff of a pillowcase of beans dumped and winnowed into a white pail: a harvest unadorned, frugal. I love you in these streets and in these rooms so far from the unhurried rush of a piss-poor creek.

But I do not love you there, where the chaff and the water stop, where you only need to move before the roof comes down on our heads. Someday the hills will come down, too.



Depending on the week, Joshua Gordon is a writer, editor, instructional designer, or librarian living in Buffalo with his wife and two children. They also own a very ugly dog with a natural Mohawk, named Wemmul.